Classical music icon Cho Seong-jin back home

By 줄리 잭슨 (Julie Jackson)

Chopin competition winner is here to perform in two gala concerts

  • Published : Feb 2, 2016 - 18:44
  • Updated : Feb 11, 2016 - 15:15

In a short span of time, pianist Cho Seong-jin has risen from an unknown musician to a household name in Korea who shatters classical music records. His popularity has grown since he won the highest prize at the prestigious International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition last October.

“It’s been almost a year since I’ve been back in Korea and I’m both anxious and happy to be back,” said Cho, during a press conference at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday, just hours after he arrived back to Seoul.

“I want to thank everyone for their continued support and for cheering me on,” he added. 

Pianist Cho Seong-jin, winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, speaks at a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Yonhap)

Cho and his fellow Chopin competitors are in Seoul to perform in the competition winners gala concerts, scheduled to be held at the Seoul Arts Center on Tuesday. Tickets for the evening concert sold out almost immediately, prompting organizers to add a matinee show, which also sold out.

As part of the concert program, Cho will perform his winning repertoire, Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor, Op. 11.

“I always try to approach my performances the same way, no matter how big or small a concert,” said Cho. “But the upcoming performance will be my first in Korea since the competition, so I am especially nervous.”

“To be honest, I don’t really enjoy competitions in general. They are very stressful and take a lot of energy and dedication ... but I entered the Chopin competition because I wanted to be a concert pianist who performs at an international level,” he said. “After the competition, I was shocked to see the response that I received and the opportunities that opened up. This is only the beginning, I’m still only 21.”

Cho is being closely watched both in Korea and abroad. His interpretation of Chopin at last year’s competition captured the attention of the people of Poland.

“I just want to say that this is really a very important moment in our history,” said Artur Szklener, director of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw, speaking at Monday’s press conference. “It will make history for the Chopin competition, it will make history for Polish culture and it will make history for piano music as well.”

“As you probably know, the Chopin competition is one of the most important -- if not the most important -- cultural events in Poland ... but the impact that (this past) Chopin competition has had, not only for the musical world but for the general public in Poland, has never been on this scale before,” he added. “Almost one-third of the population of Poland followed the competition last year. That’s something that’s never happened in (the competition’s) history.”

From left:Fryderyk Chopin Institute program coordinator Artur Szklener, pianist Cho Seong-jin and vice president of artists and repertoire at Deutche Grammophon Ute Fesquet speak at a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Yonhap)

On Nov. 6 last year, Deutsche Grammophon launched the Korean release of the live album of Cho’s finale performances at the Chopin competition. The album flew off the shelves, with all 50,000 copies sold in less than a week -- an unheard of accomplishment for a classical album in Korea.

Cho has been widely credited with changing the face of classical music on an international level and sparking local interest in the classical music genre. 

“I’m not sure whether it’s true that more Koreans are taking an interest in classical music because of me, but that would be great news for any classical performer,” said Cho.

The pianist recently signed a five-year contract with classical music record label Deutsche Grammophon for the release of five albums. Cho will be releasing a second live album, featuring his performances from the preliminary and final rounds of the Chopin competition.

He is also scheduled to start recording Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Chopin’s four Ballades under the baton of maestro Chung Myung-whun and the Staatskapelle Dresden orchestra in April.

“I can assure you that the world has been looking at what has been happening here in Korea and we are stunned, surprised and overwhelmed at your support and interest,” said Ute Fesquet, vice president of artists and repertoire at Deutche Grammophon.

“All of us know that Chopin’s music is one of the most difficult in the world ... I don’t know how you do it,” Szklener said, referring to Cho.

Despite all the praise, the young musician does not put on airs and replied to questions humbly, even jokingly downplaying his accomplishments. 

Cho shared that one of the reasons he had decided to pursue the piano over the violin was that “with the violin it is very difficult to practice, because you’re standing the whole time, but with the piano, you can just sit.

The pianist also responded to a rumor that has been making the rounds on social media -- Cho had stashed away his smartphone for a few months to avoid distractions during his practices. 

“I live in Paris now and actually somebody stole my smartphone,” said the musician.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)